Kindle the Lights

B”H

“You will kindle and prepare the lamps.” – Tanchuma Behalotecha 3

When Aaron grew concerned, that the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel brought offerings to inaugarate the Mishkan, yet, he was not called to contribute in like manner, H’Shem told him that he would have a greater responsibility. He was placed in charge of lighting the menorah that rested in the Mishkan. This would be a detailed procedure that culminated in the light of the menorah being kept lit during the night, and foreshadow the role of his descendants, who rededicated the Temple, after its near destruction by the Hellenists; hence, the celebration of Chanukah every year, even unto this day and age.

According to the Talmud, ‘He is required to light the lamp until the flame rises by itself” (Shabbat 21a). Thus, he had to make sure that each wick was lit well enough, that the flame would continue to grow, until it remained steady on its own. A lesson is mentioned in commentary, concerning this commandment, that the same is true for ourselves, when we help others. We must make sure to properly guide others, in order for them to continue to grow spiritually on their own.

Aaron would also clean out the menorah, preparing it to be lit again each and every day. Another lesson, for ourselves, to keep in mind, is that everyday, we must clean out the “soot and ash,” figuratively speaking, in our own lives. This was one of the tasks of Aaron, necessary, before placing the new wicks in each lamp, and lighting the Menorah. To keep the light glowing in our lives, we must also prepare ourselves everyday to receive that light from H’Shem. We are each a light sent by G-d into this world, that we may also light up the lives of others.

Lag b’Omer 5780

B”H

Today is the 33rd day, four weeks and five days of the counting of the Omer. Today is known as Lag b’Omer, in commemoration of the Talmudic figure, Shimon bar Yochai. The authorship of the Zohar, a Jewish mystical work is attributed to him; however, according to scholarly research, the Zohar has been shown to have been written by Moses de Leon, a Spanish Rabbi and kabbalist, who lived during the thirteenth century.

Many in Israel light bonfires on Lag b’Omer [although, perhaps, not this year] especially in Meron, where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. Although an actual person, who is mentioned in the Talmud, he has become somewhat of a legendary figure, because of the Zohar, where he is the main character. He is honored as having revealed the secrets of the Torah, while Moses de Leon is assigned a lesser seat amongst rabbis, memoralized in relative obscurity.

The day is also the day when the plague that had been taking the lives of R’ Akiva’s students stopped, after decimating twelve thousand pairs of his students. In fact, the historical Shimon ben Yochai is said to have been amongst the few who remained alive at the time. He is credited with superhuman feats in the Talmud, thus sparking the beginning of his legendary status through the Zohar. Yet, instead of viewing the bonfires as symbolic as the light of wisdom emanating from him, I prefer to perceive the flames of the bonfires as representative of the light of Torah.

All the same, on Lag b’Omer, many have barbecues, in lieu of bonfires; and, I must admit that I have been craving a kosher hamburger, as well as a kosher hot dog or two ever since lunch time today. One last point, as food for thought, regarding the students of R. Akiva. According to the Talmud, the reason attributed to their deaths was a lack of respect towards each other. By way of a negative example, we can learn through the serious repercussions of their disrespect, to focus on our relationships with others, especially family and friends, with respect, tolerance, and forbearance to the other, in full recognition of their positive qualities and contributions as unique persons.

after Shabbat: weekly shpiel

B”H

motzei Shabbos shpiel:

It is interesting to note, that in Nesivos Shalom, a significant point is made in regard to the light of the menorah in the Mishkan. As is well known, this light represents the original light of Creation, that was hidden away after the Mabul (Flood). This same light is said to be revealed to the righteous at the time of Moshiach (Messiah).

Until then, we may glimpse that light on Shabbos, as well as receive its residual glow through observing the mitzvot (commandments), and diminishing the yetzer hara (evil inclination), not necessarily in that order. Rather “sur meira, v’asei tov – depart from evil and do good” (Tehillim [Psalms] 37:27). In this manner, according to Nesivos Shalom, we may enhance our sensitivity to the light.

weekly reading: The Light of Insight

B”H

Shiur for parashas Tetzaveh 5780

“Bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:20

The light in our lives, that kindles our understanding is a gift from H’Shem, without any shadow; yet, the intuition we receive from Him is often clouded by our own perception of reality; in other words, rather than remaining pure, the vision becomes obscured. In all likelihood, the main culprit that casts a shadow upon the glimpses of wisdom that vanish, before we can procure knowledge from those flashes of insight, is the accruement of aveiros (transgressions) that create a dullness – a lacklustre – upon our hearts and minds.

Perhaps, this may be one reason that Moshe said of the final generation before Moshiach that “H’Shem will circumcise your hearts” (Deuteronomy 30:6), in the days leading towards the Final Redemption. In order to bring the unadulterated light into our lives, our hearts must be purified from the taint of the world, that has left a near indelible impression upon our thinking, viewpoints, and perspective in life. Our minds have been corroded by the zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has pervaded every aspect of our being. Yet, we will be shown the light in due time, as we walk upon the derech (path) towards righteousness.

daily reflection: Illumination

B”H

March 2, 2020

“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.”

– Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach

Only the purest of olive oil was sanctioned for use in the seven-branched menorah (candelabra) in the Sanctuary. The specifications given in Torah, concerning this requirement, point towards a teaching. Only the first droplets of oil from the olives could be used for the illumination of the menorah. By analogy, when our lives are under pressure, our best efforts are brought forth to meet the challenges designed for us from Above, for the sake of our spiritual growth.

Torah Insight: Harmony

B”H

30 Shevat 5780

February 25, 2020

“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be made of hammered work.”

– Exodus 25:31 , JPS 1985 Tanach

The golden menorah (seven-candled lampstand) was placed directly outside of the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant rested, behind the paroches (curtain). The menorah was hammered out of one large ingot of gold. This connotes the spiritual understanding, that the light of G-d should permeate all areas of our life.

The propensity to compartmentalize different aspects of ourselves, by keeping different areas of our lives separate, may bring disharmony to the soul. We can not be whole, unless our values encompass every part of our existence, inclusive of all the activities that we engage in, as well as every moment of our day.

The Waning Hours

B”H

It seems as if I am being put to the test; not only me, of course, I wouldn’t be so prideful to assume so. However, I am feeling a part of this collective nisyanos (challenge) for K’lal Yisrael, “All of Israel.” As for the scourge of antisemitism, the most proficient response, in addition to practical measures, is prayer. Prayer is universal, immediately accessible, and potentially more effective than any other measure taken. As the teaching goes, the more trust placed in G-d, the greater our security will be.

As the eighth day draws to a close, I commit to preserving the light of Chanukah through prayer, study and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness). How appropos, as the new year begins on the Gregorian calendar to make such a resolution. May others be inspired. And, “Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear” (John Lennon, War Is Over). For fear resides in the heart of man, unless squelched by faith, love, and hope, despite whatever the circumstances may be in a person’s life or the condition of his environment. Transcend the darkness with light, until the perfect dawn.

Light Will Prevail

B”H

erev 2 Teves 5780

– eighth night of Chanukah

Light will transcend the darkness in our lives when we cast our gaze towards the flame of truth, the eish tamid (eternal light) that is symbolized by Chanukah. The light of the Menorah in the temple, lit by the small cruze of oil found amidst the debris in the Temple, is the light of hope and renewal.

A little known midrash connects that small cruze of oil to the renewal of mankind, creation, and the earth itself, after the Mavul (Flood). When the dove brought back an olive branch in it’s mouth, according to the midrash, Noah pressed enough olive oil to place inside a small container. This cruze of oil was passed down to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Jacob returned to Beth El, he anointed the foundation stone with this oil. Then, according to the midrash, he hid the small cruze of precious olive oil.

This Place (HaMakom) was none other than Mt. Moriah, where the Temple was eventually established. Yes; because of the miracle of light that lasted for eight days from this precious oil, we celebrate Chanukah today. Midrash is not always meant to be taken literally; therefore, a symbolic viewpoint may be rendered from this particular midrash. The message of hope will be like a small flame illuminating the darkness, despite whatever circumstances may cast a shadow over our lives.

Yehi ratzon. May it be His will that the light of hope and renewal throughout the ages will always prevail over darkness. Amein.

Chanukah lights

B”H

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Each day of the eight days of Chanukah, a candle is lit, successively, so that on the first day – one candle is lit, then two candles on the eve of the second day, and so on. Yet, if you look at a menorah designed for Chanukah, there are nine candle holders. (Unless the menorah uses oil with tiny wicks, then there are nine repositories for the oil). The reason for a total of nine, is to have a place, usually in the center of the menorah, for the shamash (servant) candle, that is used to light all of the other candles. This candle is lit first; then, it shares its light with the other candles.

The tradition is reminiscent of the pasuk (verse), “In Thy light do we see light” (Psalm 36:10, JPS 1917 Tanach). H’Shem is the source of life, that bestows light upon us; we are connected, even dependent upon Him for every breathe we take. “For Thou dost light my lamp; the L-RD my G-d doth lighten my darkness” (Psalm 18:29, JPS). At the darkest time of the year, may we hope to be enlightened by H’Shem, by way of His emes (truth), and chesed (mercy), two key components of Chanukah; for His truth led us in the darkness against our enemies; and, through His mercy the few were able to defeat the many.

the Spirit of Chanukah

B”H

27 Kislev 5780

by Tzvi Schnee

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the L-RD of hosts.”

– Zechariah 4:6, JPS 1917 Tanach

The miracle of the oil that lasted eight days, giving light to the Menorah inside of the Temple, not the military victory of the Maccabees (a small group of pious Jewish fighters) over the Syrians is emphasized, as per the ruling of the Sages. We celebrate Chanukah in recognition of G-d’s Spirit enabling us to defeat our enemies, not by our own strength or strategical prowess in battle.

Likewise, in recognition of G-d’s hand in our lives, we may bravely face the day, with Him on our side; yet, at the same time, humbling ourselves before Him, inclusive of accepting His plans for us, replete with an acknowledgment of His guidance. He will not lead us astray; rather, he will lead us into victory time and time again. May we be able to conquer our inner battles, with a little help from Above.